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Ben Tolman

Over the past 20 years, thousands of people have come across Access Space.

It's a weird, low-key space opposite The Rutland Arms on Sidney Street. Standing awkwardly in the limelight of larger cousins, Access Space is an arts and technology educational charity, the UK's longest-running open access media lab and one of the world's first artist-run hackspaces.

Access Space has gone through several phases since its launch, adapting to survive today's low-finance reality. It was once known for hardware recycling (now handled very well by community enterprise Aspire). Many Sheffielders had their first experiences with computers at Access Space, in the early days of the Internet, and it still encourages people to get creative with tools and bespoke support that build confidence and lead to personal empowerment.

Access offers things like 3D printing workshops and laser cutting creativity for people with autistic spectrum disorders. Monika Dutta, artist and creative facilitator, says Access Space is "not the most glamorous outfit on my CV but one that I feel ethically in line with in its commitment to providing people with means to a voice".

The art side has always been cutting-edge and inclusive, giving a platform to emerging artists as well as chances for the general public to do art, use tools and make things. Visiting artists have opened up Sheffield to niche genres like butoh - modern Japanese dance theatre, kind of emo/punk/ballet - and algoraves, where computer code playing the audio is typed by performers live, along with disco effects.

There are strong socio-political themes to Access Space's approach

There are strong socio-political themes to Access Space's approach. Last year's autumn art exhibition was held with Extinction Rebellion Sheffield. This year, the British College of Mutual Aid has been set up, a collaboration between Access Space, Red Haus and Foodhall. It's an experiment in education in independent radical spaces, beyond traditional academic or formal frameworks, forming learning and creative exchanges by mutual agreement.

This project was launched at a two-day event in January called Collective Economics, where high-profile activists spoke on community resilience at times of collapse. Alternative social structures are rising, ranging from gift economy projects like open kitchens and tool libraries to local currencies, activist campaigns and more. Pay-what-you-can entry means not engaging with capitalism, which is liberating, says Jake Harries of Access. It goes beyond consumerism and the cult of the individual, opening up a new reality where we have to work together to make things happen, usually on little or no budget.

Having served the city since 1999, Access Space is having a well-deserved celebration of its 20th anniversary in 2020, so the annual open art exhibition called 20x20 seems just right this year. It welcomes all contributions of images which must be 20 inches square (50x50cm). Anyone can enter and all pieces will be displayed - as long as they're family-friendly. Blank boards are available for £7 or you can make your own. The submission deadline is Wednesday 18 March at 6pm and the opening evening is on Friday 20 March, which will be a massive birthday party for Access.

Access is open to new possibilities and partnering with other grassroots organisations to explore sharing larger premises is one option. Watch this space.

Hosted by Alt-Sheff

Trash Lab!

Sat 22 Feb | Access Space, AVEC Building

As part of Access Space's 20th birthday celebrations they're helping people get creative with electronic technology waste and trashed consumer products. Join in the hacklab fun day or bring something broken and they'll help you fix it.

Sheffield's LGBTQ+ History: A Talk

Thu 20 Feb | 7-10pm | Carpenter Room, Central Library

It's LGBTQ+ History Month every February and Sheffield certainly has history. Sandra Barker-Donnelly and Sheffield City Archives team offer a presentation on the fascinating story of Sheffield's LGBTQ+ community and its contributions to the fight for equality. Register your place free on Eventbrite.

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